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As the saying goes, “What have you done for me lately?” If you’re asking your kitchen faucet, the response would be lengthy. Faucets wash hands and dishes, fruits and vegetables, and refresh your pets’ water bowls. They fill big pots for boiling pasta, little pots for brewing tea, pitchers for drinking water, and vases for cutting flowers.

Faucets come to the aid of burned or cut fingers and can fill ice trays when your freezer is on the blink. They dampen sponges to wipe down countertops and keep your sink and appliances clean. On top of this, they also prevent your garbage disposal from overheating. Can you keep the list going?

All faucets have the same basic components. The body of the faucet blends hot and cold water headed to the spout. There is an aerator at the top of the spout that slows down the water flow to reduce splashing. The spout is part that we notice the most. It delivers water to the sink. There is a handle or two that turns the water off and on. Each handle is connected to a valve that controls the rate of water flow and temperature. (Because valves are hidden, it is understandable to think that handles and valves are the same thing.) There are also supply lines that connect to the house’s water pipes.

Faucets come in a variety of styles and finishes. A single-hole faucet is given its name because it requires only one hole to be cut in your countertop. Hot and cold water mix in a one-piece casting. If the faucet has just one handle, it has just one valve with the ability to produce hot or cold water depending on the direction in which the handle is pressed. Most single-hole faucets have a single handle but some have two. Single-hole faucets are most suitable for contemporary or transitional kitchens.

Two-hole faucets require two holes in your countertop. There is a pipe, or “bridge” that joins the two separate handles (valves) that blends the hot and cold water before they reach the spout. The look of this faucet is very distinctive and makes a perfect design statement in an old period or farmhouse kitchen.

Three-hole faucets are just like bridge faucets except that the bridge is hidden beneath the countertop in most cases. The cold and hot water handles, and the spout require one hole each. This faucet is called “widespread” and usually best suited in traditional or transitional kitchens.

A faucet’s spout is the feature we notice most. If you have an open kitchen, where the faucet can be seen from different rooms, you may want to select a grander, taller one that has an interesting, architectural shape.

A straight spout is just that. It has a straight-line shape and provides a long, low reach. It’s good for small kitchens. A shepherd’s crook also looks just as it sounds. It has a long reach with a curved end that offers a little extra height clearance in relation to the sink. A gooseneck spout is high and arched and makes filling deep pots a breeze. It’s good for larger kitchens.

There are also pull-out and pull-down faucets with integrated, high-pressured, retractable, sprayers. Pull-out spray heads pull toward you on a hose. This hose is long enough to easily move around your sink. A pull-out has a low profile, which lessens its splash but can make filling a large pot difficult.

Pull-down spray heads do exactly as they say. This is ergonomically comfortable for the user but the hose is short and more limiting than a pull-out. Pull-down faucets are tall and arched, which make it easy to fill large pots. Many are also are highly stylized and look great in an open kitchen. But, this high arch may lessen your water pressure, and the spray heads on cheaper models may become loose and dangle.

If you want to showcase your faucet but worry about the limitations of a pull-down sprayer, an articulating faucet may be your answer. While some articulating faucets have a pull-down sprayer, they also have multiple joints that allow you to direct water precisely where it’s needed. Articulating faucets have great style and are fun to use.

These days, some faucets are hands free and operate with a foot pedal or motion sensor. A battery-operated sensor detects your natural electrical charge and opens or closes the valve(s). Some do not have handles but turn on and off with a gentle tap.

There are also faucets that deliver filtered water on demand, have shields that prevent splatters, and have magnetic docking for easy retraction and keeps spray heads in place. There are even faucets with built-in lighting. It may come to no surprise that there are “smart” faucets. They have a gadget equipped with temperature gauges and efficiency sensors to monitor your water usage.

The price of faucets ranges from just under $100 up to $2,500 or more. What makes the difference? The answer mostly lies beneath their polished, matte, burnished, brushed, oil-rubbed, or satin surface. Mid-range faucets are typically made of brass. Inexpensive ones are usually zinc alloy (and sometimes, plastic). Quality stainless steel is used for most high-end faucets. These materials (“guts”) are not to be confused with a faucet’s finish even though it may have the same name such as “brass” or “stainless steel.”

Finishes are applied on top of the faucet by means of electroplating, physical vapor deposition, or powder-coating. Finishes can also make a difference in price. Kohler’s Karbon articulating faucet in Vibrant Brushed Bronze is almost $1,300 more than the same model in polished chrome, for example.

By the way, if you are buying a plumbing fixture (or anything at all) online, make sure you have chosen the real deal and not a knock-off. The knock-off will be lower in price but its materials, performance and longevity will be less desirable in the long run.

How do you eventually choose your faucet? If you are not replacing your countertop and/or sink, you’ll first narrow your choice to the number of holes you have to fill. Next, determine the best size, reach and clearance your faucet should have to suit your sink. From there, base your choice on style, function and finish. If you’re starting from scratch, you now have a good understanding of faucets and can make a wise choice.

Of course, a faucet’s price is always a factor in making your decision, but given how hard this worker bee performs, it’s a good idea to choose the best one you can comfortably afford.

Patti L. Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.

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Patti L. Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.

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